Republican candidate Clay Tippins speaks as a crowd of medical marijuana advocates, including state Sen. Michael Williams, listens. AJC/Greg Bluestein

GOP candidates slam Cagle over medical marijuana expansion 

Two Republican candidates for governor urged Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle on Monday to embrace a measure that would expand Georgia’s medical marijuana program, shortly after the GOP front-runner backed a plan to study the issue for another year.

Businessman Clay Tippins and state Sen. Michael Williams appeared at the same press conference to urge the Senate to vote on House Bill 764, which would allow patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain to use cannabis oil. 

“This is literally about life and death,” said Tippins, a first-time candidate and tech executive who accused Cagle of effectively "killing” the bill’s chances of passing this year. “If you’re going to do something about it, be honest about it.” 

“Vehicle,” the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Williams, who backs the in-state cultivation of the drug, said Cagle and Senate leaders are “kicking the can down the road.” 

Their criticism was focused at Cagle’s announcement earlier this month that he supported a study committee to recommend how patients can safely access medical marijuana. That move signaled that the Senate won’t support legislation this year to significantly expand the program. 

In a statement, Cagle pointed to his past support for medical marijuana legislation and said he plans to work with medical experts on ways to make cannabis oil “more readily available” to patients who need it. 

“Going forward, I’m committed to supporting responsible legislation that ensures Georgians who can benefit from this medication have safe, secure, and reliable access.”

Georgia law allows people suffering from more than a dozen illnesses to register with the state and possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil

But because the state doesn’t allow in-state cultivation, families who obtain medical marijuana from other states risk defying federal law for transporting the drug across state lines.

A push to allow in-state cultivation of cannabis went up in smoke when Gov. Nathan Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this year he wouldn’t sign the measure. 

The governor said in an interview that legislation to legalize in-state cultivation needed more safeguards to prevent abuse, and he urged supporters to appeal to Congress to change the law that makes it illegal to grow the drug and transport it across state lines.

Advocates still hold out hope a smaller expansion could be approved.

“Medical marijuana will be legalized. It will happen,” said Holly Faris, who suffers from a rare kidney disease. “I just want Georgia to lead on it.” 

State Rep. Allen Peake, the architect of Georgia’s medical marijuana program, has put the expansion at the center of his final stretch in office. Peake, who endorsed Tippins, has appealed to lawmakers with a message that boosting the program could help more Georgians struggling with painkiller abuse. 

“We have an opioid epidemic in our state,” said Peake, who is not running for re-election. “If we were really serious about that, the Senate would pass this bill. Why is the Senate not allowing even a hearing for it?”

 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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